Brooklyn Public Library expands ‘Books Unbanned’ program as city proclaims ‘Freedom to Read Day’

adams and president of brooklyn public library
In the midst of Banned Books Week, Mayor Eric Adams declared Oct. 4 “Freedom to Read Day” in New York City.
Photo courtesy of Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Mayor Eric Adams, alongside the presidents of New York City’s three public library systems — Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, and Queens Public Library — joined forces with local librarians and teens at Brooklyn’s Central Library at Grand Army Plaza on Wednesday to mark an influential week in America: Banned Books Week. 

During the commemoration, Adams presented a proclamation designating Oct. 4 as “Freedom to Read Day” in New York City. The mayor and library presidents urged all New Yorkers to participate in a Citywide Digital Day of Action, celebrating literature, public libraries, the power of books and the freedom to read.

There has been an alarming rise in challenges to nearly 2,000 unique book titles this year, marking the highest number in over two decades, according to The American Library Association. This surge in book bans corresponds with a significant increase in anti-trans legislation, where a majority of the banned books are related to the LGBTQIA community or people of color. 

banned books in library
Banned books on display at the Central Library. Photo courtesy of Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

“Public Libraries were founded on the promise of providing books without judgment to all who are curious, and I extend my sincere thanks to Mayor Adams for championing the work of the city’s three library systems,” said Linda E. Johnson, President and CEO, Brooklyn Public Library. “During Banned Books Week and all year long, Brooklyn Public Library remains fiercely committed to protecting intellectual freedom.”

Libraries are facing an extraordinary moment in America, said NYPL president Anthony W. Marx, and their missions and ideas are being threatened with increasingly aggressive tactics and censorship attempts.

“When we ban books, we ban ideas,” Adams said. “As mayor, I am proud to stand with our New York City public library leaders on the side of the freedom to read during Banned Books Week.”

As many of the banned books are in the Young Adult category, teens are particularly affected by the book ban surge. However, recent investments have driven teen readership in the city up — particularly in Brooklyn.

The Brooklyn Public Library saw an 84% increase in teen programming attendance, including its Intellectual Freedom Council, and a 64% increase in teen internships.

In April 2022, the Brooklyn Public Library launched the Books Unbanned initiative in response to coordinated efforts to remove books from libraries across the country. Books Unbanned offers a national e-card to young people aged 13 to 21, granting them access to BPL’s extensive digital collection. 

More than 7,000 teens from all 50 states have applied for the card, checking out over 156,000 books. Several other public libraries, including those in Seattle and San Diego, have joined the Books Unbanned effort. On Sept. 28, BPL announced that public libraries in Boston and Los Angeles County would also join the movement.

banned books week
Last year’s Banned Books Week included a talk from an Oklahoma teacher who was fired for sharing the initiative with their students. File photo courtesy of Gregg Richards/Brooklyn Public Library

Harmoniously with Books Unbanned, BPL established the Intellectual Freedom Council, a virtual space where teens can connect and discuss book challenges, censorship and intellectual freedom. BPL most recently launched the “Borrowed and Banned” podcast, a platform that explores America’s ideological conflicts surrounding book bans.

BPL’s Freedom to Read Advocacy Institute has designed a four-week program to prepare high school students to combat book banning and advocate for the freedom to read. This initiative is in coordination with PEN America, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness for freedom of expression.

Throughout Banned Books Week, which continues until Oct. 7, BPL will host various programs, including book clubs and story times, where librarians will feature banned or challenged picture books from around the world. 

On the final day of Banned Books Week, Teen Vogue and BPL will celebrate Let Freedom Read Day with a conference for teens, emphasizing the importance of literature, access to information and civic engagement.

New York City’s public libraries continue to champion the freedom to read, ensuring that all individuals have access to a wide range of viewpoints and ideas while fighting against censorship and book bans. BPL also just launched a new webpage where teens can share their experiences with censorship and banned books as they get caught up in the fight between educators, parents, and legislators. 

“We believe deeply that young people in Brooklyn and across the nation must have access to books from all points of view,” Johnson continued. “For this is the foundation of librarianship and democracy at large.”